Monday, September 28, 2015

ACTHA Arena Obstacle Challenge Results 26 Sept 2015

This past weekend saw us hosting an Arena Obstacle Challenge (AOC) under the sponsorship and guidelines of the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA). We had 14 riders sign up to compete, relatively small by national ACTHA standards, but par for ACTHA participation in the West Texas/Southern New Mexico area.  This event was a benefit for the Perfect Harmony Horse Rescue and Sanctuary.

Division Winners (see photo below).  Open Division: Luanne Santiago, Competitive Pleasure Division: Marianne Bailey tied with her daughter Jessica Bailey, but had more pluses, so Marianne took home the Blue Ribbon and the first place Plaque.  Competitive Novice Division: Terri Rutter. Scout Division: Angela Beltran-Flores.   Additionally, each of my judges, Vicki Maly and Arden Evans each gave out a custom hoof pick to the rider who made the biggest positive impression on them.  Luanne Santiago and Dan Bailey, riding a huge Percheron, won the hoof picks.

We obtained great national and local level prize support from sponsors including Smart Pak, Hoof Wraps, Camel Bak, Noble Outfitters, Eclectic Horseman magazine, and Sanctuary Leather, while we had great local sponsorship including Alamo Automotive, Riders Tack and Feed, Diamond Bar V Horseshoeing, Leonard Benally and Chaff Haye. The donated prizes allowed us to put $1,300 worth of prizes back into the hands of competitors.   

The obstacle course consisted of the following obstacles:

Trot Weave - weave between six cones placed 7.5 feet apart, turn and repeat.

Stop and Back - stop your horse on a spot and back in a straight line for a distance determine by your competitive division.

Drag - retrieve a rope off the fence and drag an orange bag of cans about 25 fee.  Open Division had to also back their horse while dragging the bag.

360 Degree Turn - riders entered a 6' x 6' square box and executed a 360 degree turn; Open had to also turn 360 in the opposite direction as well.

Slicker - riders had to retrieve a slicker from the fence and run their horses necks and hips with the slicker.

Gate - open, go through and re-latch a 10' gate.

Cowboy Curtain - or what ACTHA calls the Vine Simulator. Riders rode through the rope curtain and Open Division had to back their horses through it.

Circle Trot - riders trotted around a 35 foot circle, enter the circle and exit at the trot going the opposite direction.

ACTHA competitors and their horses are judged per obstacle on a 10 point per rider and 10 point per horse system.  The bottom line on ACTHA competitions, be they Competitive Trail Challenges or AOC's is that you expose your horse to more training opportunities, some of which you may not think of, continuing to build that brave, safe trail horse.  And as it is with horses, some were great at dragging a loud, clanking bag but fearful of a yellow slicker handing on the fence, and vice versa. 

My objective for the chosen obstacles was to balance the pure horsemanship tasks with prop related obstacles. In the video below, I am doing the Rider's Brief explaining the negotiation of each obstacle.

Prior to the AOC, I held a short clinic on backing your horse in an arc and extending that to a circle and figure 8. As well as a competitive strategy on jogging into the obstacle, stopping and immediatley backing to get momentum for the backing in an arc as most ACTHA obstacles give you 60 seconds to complete an obstacle and time can be ate up pretty quick on the Figure 8 Backing when you are in deep sand or with traffic cones placed far apart.

The competitors and their horses also had 30 minutes or so to warmup on my fixed obstacle course which included single and two level Bridges, Cones for backing in arcs, Two Step platform, Narrow Figure Z path, Nerf Bar obstacles and a heavy Rope Curtain.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Polite Horse

Everybody likes a polite horse. Nobody likes to feed a pushy or aggressive horse. When someone writes me on what to do when their horses are aggressive or crowding at feeding time, I just say "don't feed them when they are pushy or impolite, you are just teaching them that this behavior is okay.  You need to back them off."    I will eventually find, in the local area, a feed aggressive horse that someone wants helps with and do a better article on how to correct, but until then this article will have to do to address the requests I get on horses that are pushy during feedings.

We've all likely seen horses try to herd people with an arm full of hay or try to take hay out of the person's hands when they are heading to a feed bin. There is nothing cute about that, it is potentially dangerous behavior. Excuses like "well, he's very hungry", or "he feels comfortable enough to eat out of my arms", are just that excuses.  You are doing a disservice to your horses when you allow this.   

I know several people who no longer allow horses to be boarded at their places, sometimes because the part time owners would often unwittingly teach their horses bad behaviors which manifested especially at feeding times.

I used to have a boarder, even though we fed that horse twice a day, would often give the horse treats by hand and allowed their horse to push on them looking for treats. Well, to make a long story shorter, one day that horse about ran me over when I was feeding one morning, so from then on I made that horse go to the other end of the pen before I dropped the feed into the feeder. In the beginning when I sent her to the other end of the pen, she would try to inch closer to me (and the feed) so I would have to drive her back to the far end.

Also in the beginning once I dropped the feed into the feeder, this horse would try to come in before I allowed her to, so I would have to drive her away.  I did this with just my body language and voice, but sometimes a flag works well. Horses are used to be driven away by other horses with subtle body languages, sometimes just a look, and other times something more pronounced like another horse pointing his head and pinning his ears. I found that horses learn very fast that polite behavior at feedings is expected, after all they want to eat.

Another example is the horse in the video below. The very same day I brought him home I went into his pen to feed him. He was in the end of the pen and I thought someone did a good job at teaching him some feeding manners, so I turned my back on him to place the feed and that son of a gun came up behind me and pushed him away with his head. I turned quick to address this and the horse spun and tried to jump out of the pen getting his front legs momentarily caught over the corner before he fell back. He stayed in the corner, so I dropped the feed, but he still wary of me he would not approach the feed until I walked away.

For the next week or so he would stay away until I dropped the feed and walked away. Then one day I had my back to him when pouring grain into a bucket on the ground and that horse put his head between my legs trying to eat. We were underneath an overhead cover too, so all I could do was quietly step away to keep him from spooking and raising his head therefore driving me into the roof.

From then on out, I always make my horses back a couple steps up before I drop feed and not let me come in until I allow them.

There are several horse people out there that advocate just setting things up so you can throw feed without any, what they sometimes call, dramatics. These people advocate minimal handling or bothering of the horses during feedings. I think just a little opposite. I think you should be able to control your horse during feedings, including brushing him or rubbing on him when he is eating. If the horse pins his ears, I'll just move him off, wait on him to show some understanding, then let him back in. I don't think my horses are worse off for this. To the contrary, I think it makes a more gentled horse.

The horse in the video below is pretty much good at backing off, usually without my asking him to, and not coming to the feed bin until I ask him to or walk away. This also translates well to a horse in hand (on a lead rope).   Maybe your hands are busy at the moment and you can't give a signal on the lead rope or mecate lead for the horse to back, so getting them good at backing under voice is a good tool to have.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Horse Abuse

I would reckon that 100% of the people reading this site get as sad and angry as I do when we hear about horse abuse. I did not put up with boarders using abusive training methods or otherwise neglecting basic care for their horses when I ran a large horse barn years ago. Nor today when I am out of the public stables business, do I sit still when notified of horse abuse cases, which most commonly are not providing adequate feed, water or hoof care.

I am angry not only at horse owners who insist of owning horses but do not provide adequate care, but get angry as well as county officials who fail to correct the situation. My wife is even worse. She gets so livid at abusive owners and 'do nothing' county officials, that I worry about her getting arrested when confronting either. I think it makes her perpetually sad as it does me. I have known a couple ladies in the animal rescue business, who eventually moved out of the area as they just could no longer reconcile the daily disappointments in what mankind does to animals. ......I think we'll all be judged some day, by our Maker, who will hold us to account for how we treated his creatures.  I figure they are just on loan to us.

There are many layers to the problem and potential solutions. From the Law Enforcement side, lack of resources is often the biggest restriction to having a robust animal abuse investigative arm. Everything from irate parents complaining about speeders, to DUI checkpoints, to anti-gang task forces all eat up LE resources, often leaving only a animal abuse investigator who often does not have citation, emergency confiscation or arrest authority. Then adding a lack of knowledge with the abuse investigators pertaining to horses and other livestock, and lack of stiff enough penalties to serve as a deterrent, all conspire to be obstacles to safeguard animals at risk.

Almost 2 years ago the property abutting part of my North property line began development of a horse facility. Two rail pipe fencing, a metal barn capable of holding large quantities of hay and equipment, and the beginning construction of a row of thirteen 10' x 10' cinder block stalls (which remain to this day half finished). Soon after, four horses in good body score condition were turned loose onto that property - a sorrel brood mare and her yearling colt, a bay mare, and a black and white paint gelding. Within a week we had a good idea on what type of horse owner this was, who was actually just allowed to use the property and did not have any ownership part of the property.

For the first several weeks, these horses were not fed.  Instead just eating the weeds on the property. Two 30 gallon barrels were on site for water, but the owner had to bring water in by tanker truck as he apparently could not pay the $75 quarterly water bill for county water. When the weeds ran out, they had to bring hay in. And a nice old man, who did not speak any English, was hired to care for the horses. He would routinely ask us for water as the absent owner failed to contract for it to be brought in. And we would often tell the old man that the horses were getting skinny and lack of feed would impact bad on the growing colt. Then we learned that the absent owner would often fail to send money or arrange delivery of feed as well. Eventually the old man quit as he was not getting paid nor could he stand to see the animals in such condition.

The property accumulated junk - rebar, broken cinder blocks, steel pipe, angle irons pieces, etc. We advised the owner about the threat to the horses and ended up treating one of the horse who sustained a bad cut on her hocks because the owner refused to call a Vet. My wife ended up dressing and cleaning that wound daily until it healed. We also worked one of their horses through a case of colic.

Aside from that, my wife and I ensured that these horses did not go for very long with water and some grass hay. We also called the County Animal Control several times to respond when the owner would be absent for several days at a time. The Animal Control Officer, despite our pointing out how low those horses scored on the Body Condition Scale, using the Henneke System Equine Body Condition Scoring System, developed by Don R. Henneke, PhD of Tarleton State, University of Texas, 1983. The Animal Control Officer would just tell us, "they look good to me. Call me when they get worse."

We had no problem making repeat calls to Animal Control which eventually led to the owner moving his horses to an open field, where he built a temporary fence around more cinder block stalls. A few people would call us about those horses, we would go down and check them out, and call animal control to investigate. Many times there was no water on the property in stock tanks or otherwise, and horses continue to lose weight.

The last time was a few days ago. There were only two horses on that property now. We think at least one of the died and the gelding was likely sold.  My wife was crying as she called me to described the condition of these horses. The Bay More, a really nice horse and the one who had the hock injury, is in the picture at right. This picture was taken after the horse drank two 17 quart buckets of water helping to expand her barrel and make her appear just a little better.  The sorrel colt is actually now a two year old, coming three this spring - and still looks like a yearling to me. He is the horse in the photo at the top of this article - what do you think? Anyway, my wife filled up two 17 quart buckets with water for the horses which they promptly drank dry, then she filled them up again and they drank them dry one more time. I called Animal Control and the Sheriffs Office at 10.00 am in the morning and they finally responded at 5.00 pm.

We spent an hour explaining to the deputies about our history of reporting on these animals, lack of a county solution, how to body score a horse, what would constitute fair care, necessary hoof care, the lack of water, lack of feed, and tell tale lack of manure which indicated the horses were eating their own manure - little of that they were producing.

We coordinated for a local rescue to take the horses, providing a confiscation order could be obtained that the deputies assured me was being worked. But we learned the next day that the owner, after being contacted by Law Enforcement, brought in hay and water and assured the deputies that the horses would be taken care of. We were informed that the abuse case was dropped.

Law Enforcement may have dropped it, but we aren't letting it go. We'll be checking on these horses weekly and calling Animal Control and the Sheriffs Office as needed. I think what efforts that man and society makes to correct animal abuse is a snapshot into our collective morale health as a people. Again, well be held accountable.

Safe Journey. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Lets Talk About West Nile Virus Again

We all should be pretty grateful for all the rain this year, breaking the drought in much of the affected areas, however with all the rain Texas and other western states have had this year so far, Mosquitos are a larger potential problem than in the recent past. And with Mosquitos come the threat of West Nile Virus, a viral disease transmitted from mosquitos to horses, and from mosquitos to people as well. Horses are pretty susceptible to West Nile, more so than people. Humans who are at risk are usually those who are already immunological weakened. There are still some misperceptions on West Nile such as "an infected horse can infect another horse", and no this is not the case. Only infected mosquitos can infect a horse.

West Nile attacks the nervous system and can cause brain and spinal infection or inflammation. A horse will appear to be drunk - lack of coordination in movement and loss of balance. Other symptoms can be: extreme lethargy; lack of appetite; and, dullness in the eye and other signs of depression such as head pressing on a stall wall or post.

There are other diseases, such as Encephalitis (Venezuelan, Eastern or Western) whose symptoms can mimic West Nile. Only with a blood test can you be sure, and then only supportive care for the symptoms can be done.

A few years ago, when I was running a large horse stables, a boarder brought in a horse and while in quarantine the horse started showing signs of lethargy, dullness, loss of appetite and severe loss of coordination and balance in movement - staggering when trying to turn around. A blood test confirmed West Nile. A week later the horse was pretty sound and was absent all symptoms, although the owner decided to sell the horse anyway. I found a buyer for him and transported the horse to a good home with several young boys who were even able to rope off of this horse.

There are several things a horse owner in a mosquito area can do to minimize risk to his horses. Even though I live in an area without mosquitos, I often trailer 15 miles away, close to the Rio Grande, where mosquitos are present, so the West Nile vaccination is part of my routine April or spring series of immunizations for my horses. In the first few years of the West Nile outbreak it was common for horses to receive an initial shot with a booster a few weeks later.

Taking care to drain or remove sources of stagnant water will help reduce breeding grounds for mosquitos. On most properties you would be amazed at the number of items capable of holding water that would attract mosquitos. Store empty buckets upside down. Open trash cans or dumpsters (without lids) could use a couple drain holes at the bottom to reduce collecting water. At the stables I managed years ago, I would spray insect killer on the manure pit, in-between dumpings, to help reduce chances of mosquitos. Fly spray, not insect killer, can help keep a horse protected as well, although I try to limit my use of fly spray on horses to a minimum. It seems that whenever I use fly spray I can't help but spray myself and go on about the day with the taste in my mouth. I guess that just goes along with me never being accused of having acute coordination.

Anyway, If you have any questions on whether you should vaccinate your horses against West Nile, talk to your Vet. Most Vet's would approach it from the side of caution and urge a West Nile vaccination, but it gives you peace of mind to inoculate your horses, even though the immunization won't keep your horse from getting West Nile, it just give him a better chance of making through the disease if he becomes symptomatic.

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) has reported West Nile present in Harris County (Houston) and Tarrant County (Dallas) and even El Paso County (El Paso) had a human death from West Nile, so it is not necessarily only the really humid areas, or areas close to water sources that are primarily the WNV threat areas.

The United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA- APHIS) keeps track of animal diseases. The map below is the nationwide cases of West Nile Virus from last year. A complete list of counties in the U.S. where West Nile has been confirmed can be accessed here: